Networks blame DVRs, but shows lack sizzle

As much as the broadcast networks would like to blame their collective funk this fall on increased DVR playback, the truth is they simply haven’t given audiences anything new to really get excited about.

Through the first 10 weeks of the season, the Big Four networks are down a combined 10% vs. last year among adults 18-49 (11.0 vs. 12.2), according to Nielsen. NBC is up 23%, while the others are all down, including a fumbling Fox (off 29%), which will need a miracle to rally for another season crown in the demo.

Of the 18 shows to premiere this fall, only NBC’s “Revolution” could be considered a true hit that exceeded expectations, averaging a 4.5 rating in adults 18-49, according to Nielsen. The Monday 10 p.m. drama started out very hot, cooled off over the second half of October, but then closed its fall batch of episodes on an uptick, and ranks among the season’s top 10 shows heading into its midseason break.

The apocalyptic drama benefits from a hefty lead-in courtesy of top-rated music competition series “The Voice,” but also does very well in DVR playback, a sign that people are going out of their way to keep up with a show that isn’t always easy to watch same-night opposite popular dramas on ABC and CBS, as well as ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

NBC, in dire need of a sustained scripted hit, is taking no chances with “Revolution,” skedding a three-month hiatus for it to coincide with the winter break for “The Voice” — meaning the rookie drama will never have to air without the music show as its lead-in.

“The Voice” is also providing a lead-in for a new show on Tuesday, comedy “Go On,” whose 2.8 rating in adults 18-49 makes it the fall’s top new half-hour. Again, it’s tempting to say that it’s a lead-in dependent success, but considering there are two other comedies in the timeslot that viewers can flip over to, it’s clear that most of the viewers who sampled the Matthew Perry comedy early on are sticking with it.

CBS is doing fairly well, too, with “Elementary” (3.5), which is the most popular rookie show in total viewers, and will benefit from extra exposure when an episode airs after the Eye’s coverage of the Super Bowl in February.

A couple of other 10 p.m. dramas, both on Wednesday — ABC’s “Nashville” (3.1 rating) and NBC’s “Chicago Fire” (2.7) — are also showing something of a pulse, and Tuesday laffers “The New Normal” on NBC (2.4) and “The Mindy Project” on Fox (2.2) are net faves that will make it through the season despite middling ratings.

Disappointing but expected to finish out their runs into spring are CBS’ “Vegas,” ABC’s “The Neighbors” and Fox’s “Ben and Kate” — though a second season for any of them would be surprising.

With vets like “The Big Bang Theory,” “Modern Family” and “NCIS” still going gangbusters, the Big Four will be all right. But this has been a fall of missed opportunities, and the inability to find hot new shows to piggyback off these rare mega-hits could hurt the nets in the years ahead.

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